Latest Seventh Circuit Decision on Birth Control Benefit Paves Another Path To SCOTUS
Just days before the Obama administration announced new rules concerning the birth control benefit, a split 7th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction allowing another for-profit business to opt out, putting to rest any lingering doubts that the issue will eventually land before the Supreme Court.
The Grote Family owns and operates Grote Industries, a for-profit business located in Madison, Indiana. Grote manufactures vehicle safety and lighting systems. The business employs 1,148 workers over a variety of locations. It’s a privately-held business with a self-funded insurance plan. The Grote’s are Catholic and claim to operate their business according to the “precepts of their faith.” This includes adhering to the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding “the moral wrongfulness of abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization” and denying their employees contraception coverage in the company’s plan. When faced with complying with the birth control benefit the Grotes sued to block the mandate and enjoin the Obama administration from enforcing its penalty provisions. The district court denied their request, but in a 2-1 decision the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court pending appeal, which means for now, the Grotes do not have to comply.
What’s noteworthy about the decision in this case is not the outcome, but the detailed and well-reasoned dissent crafted by Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner.
A Closer Look at the Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuits: The Radical Agenda Behind the Fight Over Religious Exemptions
Thirty lawsuits have been filed by corporations challenging the Health and Human Services regulation requiring that most health plans cover contraceptives. The plaintiffs are primarily Christian-affiliated institutions, but include some secular for-profit companies as well. A survey of these cases yields some useful information as to what the “religious freedom” debate is all about.
The strangest thing about these cases is that the plaintiffs, with the exception of the secular for-profits, have not yet been required to provide contraceptive coverage and may never be. The Obama administration has exempted objecting religiously-affiliated organizations from the regulation for one year while the accommodation is negotiated and finalized. The administration has been extremely generous in allowing objecting institutions to take advantage of this “safe harbor,” even amending the eligibility requirements to include institutions that have provided contraceptive coverage in the past but recently discovered they were violating their religious beliefs by doing so.
Thus, the claim of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, quoted in a number of the complaints, that the safe harbor gives religiously-affiliated institutions “a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” does not comport with the facts, to put it nicely. The safe harbor is not merely a delay. It is a period intended for continued dialogue. At this point, the religiously-affiliated plaintiffs do not know if they will ever have to provide insurance with contraceptive coverage, which is why the three cases decided so far have been dismissed.
Fortnight for Freedom – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
The Catholic bishops have begun a two-week campaign leading up to July 4th with the central focus of removing contraceptive coverage from health insurance reform. Of course, the Supreme Court any minute now may end or modify the Affordable Care Act, which may make this debate moot.
The bishops are calling their campaign a “Fortnight for Freedom” and cloaking their objection to modern methods of contraception in a religious liberty argument. It is a classic example of those on the religious right who would restrict individual freedom to make private sexual choices co-opting language to confuse and gain supporters. It is reminiscent of the right’s coinage of “partial-birth abortion” for abortion procedures after 20 weeks and the use of the term “death panels” in health care debates.
As a religious leader and as a person of faith, I of course support religious freedom. So does the U.S. Constitution and so, I presume, do you. To me, and millions of people of faith, religious freedom means that all persons should be free to make their own personal decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, including their decisions about when, whether, or if to have children. These decisions are optimally informed by their conscience, faith tradition, religious beliefs and families, but ultimately they are deeply personal decisions that individuals can and should have the freedom to make for themselves.